Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Trouble With Boys by Peg Tyre: A Must Read Book!

"The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do" is a very interesting book that I read when the electricity was out for 5 days. The book was written by former Newsweek reporter Peg Trye after the responses whe received to a Newsweek cover article she wrote in 2006. This book looks at the trend in education that has boys underachieving and struggling in school. As an elementary educator I see part of this problem. I did not realize that it now extends up into colleges where we now are having a "girl" problem. Many girls, after working hard and reaching for their dreams, are finding it harder to get into some colleges as a college may be more willing to take a "weaker" academic boy in trying to maintain a more equal balance of student enrollment.

Upon my first read I found many interesting ideas, but what resonated with me was how she tracked the changes in education through the years. I found many of the trends that she mentioned were changes that were part of my education. From the experimental 60's, when I was part of a school system that liked to try "new" ideas in education, to attending a College Prep boarding school that had just started admitting girls as students. Even in my teaching career when it was drilled into us to teach to the girls the changes continued. Peg Tyre now maintains that we have to do the same for boys!

I agree with Peg. I have always been an advocate for finding ways to teach all students and that when we teach boys we need do it in boy-friendly terms. Many boys, and some girls, do not learn best in an classroom environment where they are made to sit still, be quiet, and to complete worksheets, and to keep all their work looking "pretty". As an elementary male teacher, I sometimes find that this is a hard concept to get across to some teachers. One comment that I liked in this book, and that I didn't expect, is that while Peg Tyre agrees that we need more male teachers in the elementary schools, she does say that "good teaching is good teaching" and that female teachers can do all the things necessary to help her male students achieve.

It certainly is a topic that I don't find addressed in the schools as much as I would like to see it being talked about (which should be as often as possible!). I wonder what would happen if on the state testing one of the subgroups that the test looks at would be the boy students.

I will have to reread the book again to collect my thoughts as I read it in the dark under some blankets and with gloves on my cold fingers. I was not interested in taking notes or marking up the book. I certainly feel it is a book that teachers and parents should definitely read.

Here is an excellent "authors/google" lecture given by Peg Tyre about the boy problem and her book. You can get a good feel for the book by listening to her speech.

Here is an appearance by Peg Tyre on the Today show.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Simply Immature

"The Encyclopedia of Immaturity" by the Editors of Klutz is a book you want to read (many times) if you are an elementary school teacher. I think it particularly suits fourth grade teachers well as this is a book that basically describes what it is like to be inside the mind of a fourth grader. You will laugh and giggle as you read through the book and may even try a few (or many) of these pranks, jokes, and tricks on your students, family, and friends. These are the kinds of things you wish you knew how to do when you were in fourth grade because you would certainly get everyone's attention. I recommend this book to everyone that enjoys a good laugh except the students in my fourth grade class!

My third grade daughter and myself spent many a delightful hour howling with laughter at this book as we waited for our electricity to be restored after the recent ice storm (it took 5 days!). Here is what the ice storm looked like at our house. There was lots and lots of noise all night as branches and trees crashed to the earth. There is now a lot of clean up to be done.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Simple Way to Project Images and Movies in the Classroom

I have always enjoyed bringing technology into my classroom. Unfortunately schools find it hard to enable teachers to use the newest and most interesting technology because of the expense. That has left me trying to figure out how I can get a projector into my classroom and I really couldn't find an inexpensive way to do so. This week, I finally did find something extremely cool and useful that I think teachers could put to good use in their class and it does more than just a standard projector.

Th 3M Micro Professional Projector is a wallet sized projector that can be connected to computers, iPods, digital cameras, and other pieces of technology to project images on a wall or screen. It uses LED lights so it doesn't get hot and you can carry it around and project wherever you are because it can be powered by its own battery. It projects an image large and clear enough to fill up the screen in my classroom (although it looks better with the lights out). I took photos and movies on my digital camera and was able to show them immediately to my class. I see it as being very useful to show all the short movie clips I use in my classroom. Of course now I will have to get a video iPod to store all those movies! I think it would be very easy to keep my videos (such as the animoto videos of my student's poetry)on an iPod and project them on a wall or board when I am meeting with a small group or if I am teaching a whole class lesson. I see so many practical uses for the projector that I think it is a great use and addition of technology to my class.

I was worried that it would be hard to focus or the images would not be clear. I was surprised when I tried it that the focus remained true even if I was holding the projector in my hand. The images and movies were clear and focused and certainly grabbed my student's attention.

Here are some newer low-cost more advanced alternatives:

AAXA LED Pico Projector with 80 Minute Battery Life, Pocket Size, Mini-HDMI, 15,000 hour LED Life, and Media Player

Taotaole Multi-media 150 Lumens Portable LED Projection Micro Projector

A Simple Way to see Tiny Things

My class has been learning about rocks and minerals. I made "mock" rocks so that each student could break a rock down into smaller "minerals". First they broke apart the mock rocks into red gravel, blue gravel, oyster shells, and a powdery "other stuff".

It was easy to see the "minerals" that made up the rock, but they weren't sure what the other stuff was. So we put it in water and overnight some sediment has settled on the bottom.

However the water was cloudy so the water was placed into cups and evaporated. When the water was gone some cystals had grown on the bottom of the cup. We had sheets that showed different types of crystals and the students were able to identify the crystals as salt crystals. We looked at some of the salt crystals under my digital microscope and were able to see them more clearly. Here are a few of the photos we took.

After leaving the crystals out for a bit it seemed we had some "life" starting to grow under the microscope!

The digital microscope I use in my class is called the Intel Play QX3 and it easily hooks up to a computer through the usb port. The software is fun and allows you to see things at 10x, 60x, and 200x the normal size. You can take pictures, movies, or time lapse photography and then for fun play around with the pictures and add things like little salamanders or other creepy things that kids seem to like (see picture above). The class always enjoys seeing close up photos of their eyeballs, skin, or the fabric of their clothes. Anything tiny is fun to look at with this microscope. It is a wonderful and fun tool to have in the classroom. Here is the microscope that I use:

This looks like a lower cost way to do the same thing: